Ninety-one years ago, a group of McGill students created a satirical magazine to stoke controversy on campus. Their words would consume them whole. 

On a cold early March night, Ernie Crown was waiting by his window when he saw the car of Gerald Halpenny arrive. He noticed that three men were in the car, but he couldn’t recognize their obscured faces. 

Fifteen minutes earlier Crown had received a call from Halpenny, the president of the McGill student society. Halpenny had an urgent matter to discuss with him. “This is about the Black Sheep,” he said. 

Crown made his way outside. But when he reached for the car door, two of the men got out, pushed him into the backseat and tightly bound a blanket over his face before driving away. In the scuffle Crown caught a glimpse of the driver and the two passengers: none of them were Halpenny.  

They drove for half an hour. The car finally stopped and the driver cut the engine. The two men grabbed Crown and pushed him outside onto a snowy field. They finally untied the blanket from his head. Before him was an empty terrain with broad, snow-covered bleachers. They were right behind the McGill Field House, standing all alone in the Molson Stadium. 

Crown barely had time to assess his surroundings when the men blindfolded him once again, then gagged him, tied his legs and threw him to the ground. One of the men took out a pair of scissors and started cutting his hair.

“Do you know why you are here?” one of the men finally asked. 

“I suspect the reason,” Crown replied. 

“Well, you’re here because of The Black Sheep,” another retorted.

The Black Sheep was the new campus satirical magazine and Crown had been a contributing writer. One of the men, it was reported the next day, then launched into a lecture about good literature. The Black Sheep, he told Crown, was decidedly not. 

By now, the men had finished cutting Crown’s hair. They began pouring a viscous liquid on his scalp. Crown, sensing the strange liquid dripping down his head finally spoke up. They had made a big mistake in abducting him, he tried to shout under his gag. Yes, he had written for the Black Sheep, but he had quit the publication three weeks earlier. He said he had nothing to do with the second issue, which was published just the week before.  

Crown was lying. But his claim to innocence was enough to stave off further hazing. The three men briefly deliberated before walking away, leaving Crown there, blindfolded and gagged, his scalp dyed in red ink, in the middle of the snow-covered stadium on that frigid early-March night. 


The abduction and hazing of Ernie Crown on March 7, 1933, spelled the end of the Black Sheep, a short-lived satirical magazine that ran that winter semester at McGill. To understand the origins of the Black Sheep, it is necessary to go back two years earlier, to the winter of 1931, to the offices of another student publication.

The McGill Daily was the largest newspaper on campus. Every night, as the rest of the city was asleep, a rotating cast of 90 students worked till the early morning to put out that day’s edition. On one of those long nights, the editor in chief William Anderson Barclay was at his desk in the newsroom putting the final flourishes on an article that would soon appear in the literary periodical the McGilliad. In his article, Barclay defended the work of his Daily reporters against the naysayers who had called campus papers like his “pseudo-journalistic” bulletin-boards.  

Barclay believed otherwise. “The good college daily is a real newspaper,” he wrote. “In its narrower sphere it does exactly the same work as the great city editions, with the difference that it serves its community in a much more intimate and complete way.” 

If anyone radiated a genuine belief in the work of student journalism, it was Barclay. He had joined the paper in 1929 as a staff writer, where his love of sports as a track-and-field athlete helped him pen regular columns on cross-country, skating and boxing competitions. 

At the Daily, his competitive spirit had clearly translated from the track to the page. He quickly rose through the ranks of the massive Daily operation and was finally elected Editor-in-Chief for 1930-31 school year, a mere two years after he had published his first column. 

The McGilliad article was not just an ode to his beloved Daily: it was an ode to himself. Over the past four years, Barclay had climbed to the highest echelons of student leadership. He had run the largest newspaper on campus for a year and had won praise for it. He had proven his smarts and his wit to thousands of readers, with at least one student admiringly dubbing his poetic flair “the well-known Barclay touch.”

Barclay, now in his senior year, was leaving the Daily on a high note. But rather than graduating that winter, he chose to stay at McGill for another semester to complete his degree. 

The following fall would prove debilitating. Barclay was as opinionated and energized as ever, but he no longer held any position at the Daily. The paper had moved on from him and he was now watching from the sidelines as it kept churning out its daily issues. He was relegated to writing letters to the editor of the Daily. 

Those letters became pettier. One came on December 2, 1931, when Barclay voiced his opposition to Canada’s participation in wars overseas. The topic was sensitive, but Barclay’s antiwar stance was not uncommon among students. The problem was his last sentence, where he wrote that he would “never to take up arms in any nationalistic quarrel, regardless of the cause” because “no nation and no empire is worth a bullet in the guts.”

The backlash against Barclay’s letter was fiery. One incensed student accused Barclay of giving “vent to expressions unworthy of any true son of Canada”. He added that Barclay’s comment was “highly unpatriotic against all decent principles of social ethics and distasteful to one to whom the country is uppermost in his affection.” 

“It is to be regretted that these statements come from a former Editor of your paper,” he continued.

Others now jumped to Barclay’s defense. One student accused the critic of “hackneyed, silly, flag-waving Torontonian patriotism” while another suggested the critic “take his toy gun and go to the front line”.

It was out of character for the former editor in chief to start a feud of petty insults and ad hominem attacks. But Barclay felt no compunction for the controversy he had “inadvertently started.” 

“Apparently, my antics last winter have done my credit in the world much wrong,” Barclay wrote back about the criticism. “I admit that the lie was often on my lips and the tongue was often in my cheek.” At the end of his letter, he added with a casual flair sure to anger his critics, “Don’t bother to call me ‘Mr. W. A. Barclay’ – just Bill to you.” 

Stoking controversy had once again made Barclay the center of attention on campus. He now realized how much he missed being on everyone’s lips. 

As his time at McGill was finally ending, Barclay began envisioning a new way for him to recapture that attention. He wanted a platform where his newly acquired taste for notoriety would have free range. 

He didn’t know yet how he could achieve this vision – it would take him over a year to figure that out. But he knew it would require finding the right people to help. Which meant striking at the right time.


The fall of 1932 was not a good time for Ernie Crown. The Montreal native had diligently worked his way up to associate news editor at the Daily by that semester and had taken on another editorial position at the Red and White review, one of the pristine literary papers on campus. The young editor was working on his dream of becoming a foreign correspondent and escaping the cold of Montreal for the glitzier cities of Paris and New York. 

It all came crashing down on the night of November 29 when an article titled “Beer Infuses Students with Care-Free Jollity” found its way onto his copy-editing desk. The article described a group of students who had visited a local brewery near campus, where they “were seen emerging from [the] brewery with jovial disposition, but none too steady gait.” Crown found the piece entertaining and lighthearted. He placed it on the front page of the following day’s paper. 

Crown’s view was not shared by university authorities. When the article appeared in print the following morning, the university administration called the story “injudicious” for its alleged condoning of campus drinking. McGill Principal Arthur Currie promptly called the Daily’s news editor and accused the paper of “extremely poor journalism to publish the article”. Student Society President Deane Nesbitt asked his council to take disciplinary action against the student who had written the article. 

The following Monday night, the student council held a meeting to discuss the issue, which was attended by the top editors of the Daily. The Daily refused to identify the writer of the article, but Crown, as the night editor on the 29th, assumed responsibility for publishing it.

The council moved forward with a vote to punish Crown. The editors, in a raucous exchange, accused society members of attempting to exert control on the newspaper by acting against the editor. Council members were unmoved and voted in favor of suspending Crown from his editorial position. 

The Daily editors were incensed by the decision. The following day, the editorial board responded to the suspension of Crown by resigning en masse from the Daily. Under a December 7 banner headline accusing “high handed action of students’ council”, editor-in-chief Alan Talbot and a dozen managing and senior editors announced their immediate resignations. The collective act of protest left the Daily in disarray, with “some 50 to 100 student reporters loose on campus with no one to direct their activities.”

In the space of a week, a dozen of the best writers and editors working for the most prestigious journalistic publication on campus now found themselves out of a job and with nowhere to vent their frustrations. They had refused to accept censorship from a student body that seemed to relish in its authoritative powers. But by resigning they were essentially censoring themselves. 

For this group of students, there remained a roiling urge for vengeance: towards the students’ society and also towards the university administration, which had approved of how the Crown situation was handled. But they had no immediate place to put that anger into words.


They wouldn’t have to wait long. On December 6, as the Daily editors were drafting their mass resignation announcement, a closed-door meeting was held in the Daily offices on another matter. The meeting was attended by soon-to-be former editors Allan Talbot, Ernie Crown, Nathan Levitsky, Rachmiel Levine, Ernest Carter and Jessie McLeod. There was another person in attendance; the person who had called the meeting: William Barclay.

During this meeting, Barclay spoke about starting a new, independent campus publication: a publication unconstrained by the grip of the student’s society or the McGill administration. A publication that he wanted to name “The Black Sheep”. 

The idea caught the attention of the editors, who promised to work with Barclay on founding the publication. They liked the idea of an independent magazine.

The first trace of the Black Sheep appeared in a publicity blurb in the Daily two weeks later, inviting students to discuss the details of the future magazine. The blurb described the publication as “a hyper-critical and literary magazine, sedulously eschewing all traces of pseudo-intellectuality, and to be run independently of any campus organization.” During the meeting, the team devised the following plan: they would publish three issues during the term, on the first week of February, March and April of 1933. Barclay was to be editor-in-chief, while Levine, McLeod and Carter would become associate editors. Crown and Levitsky would join in the production but not in any official function. 

In January 1933, the team began in earnest their work on the first issue. The Daily was sympathetic to the cause of the Black Sheep and provided regular front-page columns on the progress of the magazine. In one article from mid-January, the Daily noted that “although the contents of the issue are being kept secret until the magazine comes out, it is understood from remarks let drop by the editors that the note running through the Black Sheep will be the “what the hell” attitude, satirizing several campus organizations and personalities, besides articles and verses of general interest”. 

The Daily, in giving space to the Black Sheep, wanted to show its readers that it was in on the joke. But given how secretive the Black Sheep’s work was, it was clear that the Daily had no idea what the magazine would contain. The newspaper nevertheless continued with its publicity, publishing increasingly outlandish columns on the drivel that the Black Sheep’s editors were feeding them. 

On January 30, the Daily reported under the byline “Constructive Criticism Barred From Magazine Editors Announce” that “it appears that the first issue will contain a wide range of material, varying from the sublimely ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime. The editors announced last night that they were happy to report that there was not more than one item in the magazine which was constructively critical. Even the article which is slightly constructive has been so tempered with injustice that it will be readable.”

The publicity was starting to draw criticism in some corners of the university. One student wrote in that “present day economic conditions have been acclaimed bad enough, and there is no reason why a group of, may I say, soreheads, to go ahead and publish their silly, nonsensical, common opinions that are sure to be in bad taste, and unfit for publication at McGill.”

But as the publication date of the first issue approached, no one at McGill – not a single student, student’s society member or even Daily editor – other than the handful of Black Sheep members, could have a sense of the havoc their magazine was about to wreck on campus. 


“Two issues of the magazine under the title, the “Black Sheep” have made their appearance and have given ample grounds for an opinion as to its merit. The sponsors claimed it was to be “literary;” the editors have evidently been labouring under a delusion as to the meaning of the word “literary.” Perhaps they have thought that the term included a descent into pornography, ridicule, blasphemy and personalities. […] Such mud-slinging is expected from the lowest type of yellow journalism and is not to be expected from any journal connected with university students or graduates.”

Daily Editorial Board, March 7, 1933

Sir Arthur Currie was now in his final year as Principal of McGill University. When he had been selected for the position in 1920, thirteen years earlier, he had the distinction of being the only Principal in the university’s history not to have gone to university himself.  

That’s because he had distinguished himself as the finest military commander in the nation’s history. When war had broken out in Europe, he was in charge of the Canadian positions in Ypres in the spring of 1915 when Germans released chlorine gas above the Allied trenches, asphyxiating thousands of his troops. Currie, resisting pleas to retreat, put together a defense that ultimately prevented the enemy from piercing the Allied line. His military command at Ypres in 1915 proved victorious – a feat he repeated at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in 1917. Under his command, Canadians never lost a battle.

At McGill, Currie had now built a reputation as a fierce defender of “academic freedom”. Once, in response to an alum’s criticism of an article published in the McGilliad, Currie explained that “the question of control” over the contents of a student publication was not one he was willing to consider. 

“You know how ready professors, students and others who make pretense of being academically minded are to insinuate that academic freedom does not prevail at McGill,” Currie wrote. “On more than one occasion in public and in private I have made it as clear as I could that a professor or a student is free to make almost any comment he pleases on any subject.”

That resolve would be tested on February 2, 1933. The first issue of the Black Sheep had gone to press and nearly 500 copies had been mailed to subscribers, with hundreds more on sale at vending stands across campus. If students wanted an idea of the quality of the material they had purchased, all they needed to do was turn to page four, where a certain “Von Dubno” began his poem “On a classmate”: 

She waddles on her fat, short legs –

A face far from delectable –

She wears an inane, placid look –

Of brains no sign detectable.

A collective sense of bewilderment spread across campus. Currie caught wind of the outrage. Students and parents alike were calling to complain that the magazine was tarnishing the name of the university. Livid, Currie ordered an immediate ban on the sale of the magazine across campus. As news of the ban spread to the student press, the university administration offered a boilerplate response to queries, explaining that since “the university can have no views on political, religious and other questions […] it cannot afford to have the public think that it sanctions or encourages the publications of the magazine.” 

However later that day, Currie betrayed his anger during a speech at an annual smoker, explaining that publications like the Black Sheep deserved to be banned by the university “if they show bad taste or are not perfectly fair, impartial and honest.” 

There was nothing accidental about the outrage the Black Sheep had caused. On the first page, the editors had made their purpose clear, stating “we have no ulterior motive in view. Specifically, we have no intention of waking up anybody from the slumber of the innocent and the ignorant.” A few pages later, they reasserted their mission, writing that “we must remain first among the colleges in dullness, in ignorance and in sheer out-and-out boorishness.”

On page three, they had printed the following ad: “The worst magazine of the month: the black sheep”. And at the bottom, added in fine print: “(We beat you to it boys)”.

Nearly all the Black Sheep contributions were anonymous, signed under surnames like Aloysius Hearne, Von Dubno, Lafcadio Le Gentil – vague references to esoteric literary figures. One poem called on certain professors to be hanged from the cupola of the Arts Building. In another blurb, titled “regrets”, the editors announced that they had “sold their souls to the McGill University Players Club for a five-dollar advertisement on the back page.” 

But one target of the Black Sheep’s ridicule was featured on nearly all of its pages: the McGill Daily. And the author of these articles chose not to remain anonymous: William Barclay. 

“They have gone to the mat time and again with printers, Students’ Councils, infantile reporters and hostile criticism; but there seems to be a malignant twist in the works somewhere, for try as they may, the Daily remains in effect little more than a notice-board running a fever and suffering consequent delusions of grandeur,” Barclay wrote.

“The editors have worked hard,” Barclay continued. “There is no doubt about that. Some of them have gone so far as to adopt an attitude believed by many to facilitate newspaper work. They have learned to swear rather nicely, to drink beer for effect, to do without sleep and to criticize superciliously the admittedly lousy productions of the older gents who represent professional journalism in these parts. But with all their effort and all their atmosphere, the Daily remains far below the standard which it might achieve.”

If Barclay had hoped to get a rise out of the Daily, he got it. In an editorial a few days later, the Daily responded to his gibes in kind. “It must be observed that in the years that the author of the article in question had a say in the management of the Daily, little was done to correct or solve these difficulties,” the editorial noted. “W.A.B. goes to great length to prove that the Daily is not a newspaper despite the efforts of past editors to make it such. As he makes no exception to this statement we can conclude that he feels this to be true of his own tenure of office.” 

Barclay had finally satiated that craving for attention and notoriety that had surfaced the year before. He had helped create a magazine with the help of like-minded Daily ex-editors that neither the Students’ Society nor the university Administration could trample. He had ensured the editorial meetings would be held in secret, keeping students in the dark about the magazine while duping his former paper into promoting his new project. The constraints that had existed at the Daily no longer existed at this new paper. The Black Sheep was an independent paper, but it was Barclay’s paper. 

The other Black Sheep editors had finally caught on. The paper they had signed up to work for was not the paper that had been published. Now, with the publication banned from campus and a wave of backlash crashing in from all corners of the university, friction grew between Barclay and his managing editors. McLeod, who had fallen ill during the production, disassociated herself completely from the paper and denied any involvement with the printed edition. Levine and Carter demanded that the magazine temper the material in future issues. Barclay refused and the managing editors resigned. Unfazed, Barclay responded to the resignations in the Daily, writing that the Black Sheep would appear in March and April as scheduled: “These two issues will be of a kidney with the first – even if the entire university resigns.”

Work on the second issue became a clandestine operation. The remaining editors were denied space in the Union Building, but Barclay secretly managed to continue production in the building’s basement. He would eventually get caught smuggling boxes of Black Sheep copies by members of the Union, who ordered the editors to leave the premises. 

Despite the disruptions, the second issue of the Black Sheep was mailed to subscribers on March 1 and more copies were sold off-campus. Author names were now entirely absent from the magazine’s pages. Otherwise, the Black Sheep was doubling down on its antics.

In a front page take-down of the biggest clubs at McGill, one writer called Union members “popular vote-elected-do-nothing-busybodies” who spent their time in the “rather comfortable rooms in the McGill Union” where they “introduce females when they think they can get away with it.” 

“That’s quite alright anyway,” the writer added, “because ten to one both the introducers and the introduced are virgins.” 

A few pages later, the target was the Church, which the Black Sheep accused of fueling colonialist violence out west “to pave the way for the peace and good-will of Big Business.”

“It’s the doctrine of giving, they insist, as they take money, labor, and crops from famished natives for a contribution to the Great Work. Ah, it’s the Faith of Western Capitalism, the Creed of Commerce, greed. Is it for this that Jesus died – that lantern slides might be shown to a gaping native, and cracked gramophone records moan tuneless praise of the White Man’s God?” 

In “Parnassus on skids”, one writer lauded the benefits of marijuana on the poetic abilities of a “young man” of otherwise “no talent”. And in a page 4 editorial, the paper accused Sir Arthur “Hush” of being openly antisemitic. “In this issue we had planned to have a cartoon of our Principal featuring a pronouncedly Jewish cast of countenance, under the title the “semitic influence at McGill.” You can well imagine the effect.”

The second issue cemented the Black Sheep as the most reviled organization on campus. Calls flooded into Currie’s office from parents who were aghast at the mailed copies their children had received. The principal had thought that his ban had put an end to the Black Sheep, but he had been outplayed. Alums wrote to the Daily deploring the connection the disgraced magazine had to their alma mater.  

The Daily’s editorial board offered its most forceful rebuke yet of the Black Sheep on March 7, suggesting that “police action would rapidly put an end to this stupid and offensive publication, which but serves to reveal the depravity of those who compile it.”

“That it represents any but the most insignificant and undesirable vestige of the student body is of course unthinkable,” the editorial concluded.  


Barclay had, of course, no intention of giving up on his paper. Universal condemnation and a university-wide ban had not stopped him from publishing the second issue. Calls for police intervention would not stop him from publishing the third. 

But the violence on the night of March 7 would put an abrupt end to those plans. The abduction and hazing of Ernie Crown for his involvement with the Black Sheep made the front page of several Montreal newspapers the following day, drawing shock and rebuke from the McGill community. 

Despite promises for an investigation, the three students who had attacked Crown were not identified and no charges were brought. They will likely never be identified, given the scarcity of surviving documents on the crime. It didn’t help that the Black Sheep had made so many enemies in such a short time that the list of potential culprits cannot be feasibly narrowed down.

When Currie read Crown’s story in the newspaper the next day, he promptly called him to his office. Crown explained that after the three men had left him, he had managed to untie himself and gone to the Montreal Herald to tell his story. Currie told him that by going to the newspapers he was trying to make a martyr out of himself, which Crown vehemently denied. He added that he had been humiliated by the hazing and that his self-respect demanded that he press for an investigation into the assailants. “It’s rather late in the day to talk about self-respect,” Currie retorted. 

The two had met the previous year under similarly hostile circumstances. Currie reminded him of the encounter, where Crown had accused the principal of antisemitism. He asked him whether he had been behind the Black Sheep article accusing him of the same thing. Crown admitted he had, but that he now regretted having written it. 

As their tempers cooled, Currie asked him at length about the Black Sheep, scribbling on scrap paper the names of the students involved. Crown didn’t feel bad about giving away the names, because he didn’t understand what was wrong with the Black Sheep or why the university had chosen to ban it. 

As their meeting drew to a close, Currie asked Crown why he had decided to join the Black Sheep in the first place. Crown said that he had grown disillusioned with McGill since his suspension from the Daily the preceding fall. Now he was only looking to have a bit of fun, and he didn’t care whether the university kicked him out for it. 

“I have no idea what he will do, but I strongly suspect he will not prosecute in the Courts,” Currie wrote about Crown. “And it will not surprise me to learn that he has retired from the University.” 


Crown didn’t quit the university. He graduated soon after and would go on to have a long and successful career as a newspaper editor that spanned three continents. Currie, meanwhile, died of a heart attack eight months after their meeting. His funeral was at the time the largest in Canadian history. 

Barclay stayed quiet after the Black Sheep ended. A rumor briefly spread the following school year that the magazine would return to print, but the rumor never materialized. Thirty-four years later, in 1967, Barclay would attend the Daily’s 50th anniversary reunion. Among the people who attended were Daily editors he had antagonized – and some of his old friends from the Black Sheep.